pattiSammySharing natural or man-made disaster stories with young children is not easy. I often find myself struggling to find the words to share with my children as to why things happen when they hear or see things like hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes causing so much damage or killing people, especially children.

Man-made disasters, like the recent oil spill in the Gulf Coast, can be harder to explain since they don’t understand why any person would want to cause such a disaster. Images of oil-entrenched pelicans and other animals on the daily news only heightened their interest.

Patti Pelican and the Gulf Oil Spill is the second book in the Salty Seas Series by Lynda Wuster Deninger of Louisiana. On the heels of Hurricane Katrina, when it seems the state could withstand no more tragedy, the Gulf oil spill happens. Lynda uses her key journalistic research and writing talents to pen a 36-page children’s book about the oil spill from a bird’s perspective. The illustrations, done by Louisiana-based artist Paulette Vinyard Ferguson, are vivid and detailed, which only add to the story and ability to capture children’s attention as they follow the words.

We follow Patti Pelican and her friend Sammy Seagull as they find themselves covered in oil after searching for food. Thankfully they are saved by a human friend, Captain Charley, but the story is even more striking because it shows how easily our feathered friends, the brown pelican, could have faced extinction, once again, after just being released from being on the endangered species list for 35 years.

My kids enjoyed hearing the story and asked lots of questions: “Why is the pelican covered in oil? Why can’t it fly? How could this happen?” We talked about the Gulf Oil Spill in language young children could understand and why it is so important that we do what we can to help Mother Earth. We talked about why recycling is important and why we take the train or bike whenever we can instead of driving our car (which, of course, prompted follow-up questions or whether we could go on a bike ride right now to help the pelicans…they are kids, after all!).PattiPelicanBookCover

Just as interesting as the story was the call to action at the end of the book that gives young listeners or readers ideas on what they can do to help or be involved in an animal rescue mission. Included is the information for the Tri-State Bird Rescue Research Inc. and the International Bird Rescue Research Center, groups that led the rescue efforts in response to the Gulf oil spill.

It’s a great reminder for us and our children that all of us can play a part in helping in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. But even more than that, that all of us have a responsibility to be kind to our natural habitats and the more we know about the animals, plants, and waters which share our earth, the greater the likelihood that we’ll protect them and they will protect us.

Patti Pelican and the Gulf Oil Spill is a great book to read as a way to not only remember this disaster, one year later, but also as an introduction to bigger world events if you’re kids are beginning to ask why disasters happen in the world.

The book includes an audio and Sing-A-Long CD. It can be found in bookstores nationwide.


Megy Karydes enjoys traveling and seeing animals in their natural habitats. She was particular excited the first time she spotted little monkeys crossing her path as she and her friend drove from South Africa to Swaziland. She is the founder of World Shoppe, a fair trade importing and wholesale company that works directly with women artisans in South Africa to produce fair trade and handmade jewelry, women’s accessories and greeting cards. 

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